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Ways to improve your writing

As a published author and English teacher, here is my advice to improve your writing:

One: Write, Write, Write

Since publishing my first novel, Life and Death in August 2018, I have written just about every day. I have successfully balanced teaching, being a father of a one-year-old, and a husband to set time aside to write at least a half hour a day each morning. It's not easy, considering that if I want to write, I need to set my alarm for 4:30 to find that narrow window before when work starts and before my son wakes up.

I found that in the past, the longer I have gone without writing, the harder it is to start once again. Some days I may only write one hundred words and it's not the best quality, but at least it's something. Other days, I may pump out two thousand words of beautiful prose. But my advice to aspiring writers is to write every day, or at least as much as your time allows. The more you write, the better and more comfortable you will get at writing.

Two: Read, Read, Read

If you are not reading, it will be difficult to improve your writing. The two go hand in hand, and I would also recommend that you try reading every day as well. In Stephen King's On Writing, he recommends this method. Although, he says to shoot for writing two thousand words a day. That's great if you have the time to do that, but simply take the time to write and to read as much as you can over the course of a day.

A lot of people will say they never have time to read, but they will be the first ones to rattle off how many TV shows they watch, how many movies they've seen, or how many video games they've played. There is nothing wrong with taking in a show or playing a game. Yet, if you want to fit in time for reading, something has to give. How much time do you spend on your phone each day? If you find yourself spending a lot of time there, why not read on it? There is an app I have called Scribd, which for $9.99 a month, it gives you access to a whole library of classic and modern texts. I've plowed through several titles on there on the go. It also gives you access to audiobooks. Purists may say that audiobooks do not count as actual reading, but if you're an auditory learner, I don't see the difference. Plus, this is a great way to get your reading in on the way to work, or while you're doing chores around the house. I've listened to several texts this way on my forty-five minute commute to and from work.

Try to read both in the style you want to write in and in diverse writing styles. Don't like a genre? Read it. Don't like poetry? Read it. Take a look at non-fiction even if fiction is what you want to read. Stay up on the news. It is true what they say: truth is stranger than fiction. Most of what authors write about is stemmed in truth. Also, read what people are reading today. If you want to break into the publishing world one day, you'll want to stay current on what's selling.

Three: Show don't Tell

It may take you a while to obtain this skill, but once you obtain it, your writing will go to a whole new level. The difference between showing and telling is letting the story reveal information rather than you giving us the information.

Example of Telling: John had thick, brown hair and wore a thick, polyester jacket. He stood about six foot-three and always smiled wherever he went.

This may tell us something about your character, but it's dry. The character isn't acting anything. It reads more like a stage direction in a play than what the character is performing.

Example of Showing: John ran his hand through his thick, caramel hair as he entered the living room, and while his six-foot-three height commanded people's attention, it was his warm smile that melted their hearts.

In the second example, we get more of a feel of who John really is, and how he relates to the other characters and how they relate to him.

This kind of writing goes for expository, argumentative, and narrative. It is always better to explain yourself versus state the obvious.

Four: Copy edit, Copy Edit, Copy Edit

The best thing you can do for your writing is copy edit. So many times students of mine will turn in their work without so much as running a spell check. Before even having someone else look at your work, you need to read it over at least twice. You should read it over for grammar and spelling and read it over out loud. Does it sound good? Do the words flow? Does the story fit well together? How is the conflict? Are your facts straight? You need to answer all of these questions before you hand it off to someone else to read. You don't want to embarrass yourself after you just spent time all this time writing.

Giving your work to a copy editor is one of the best things you can do. A lot of writers are timid about this, thinking that their work is the best thing to happen since Shakespeare. It's not. Mine isn't either. But since I've started using a copy editor, I realized there are things in my writing that could be stronger. It has helped me become a better writer.

Copy editing takes several forms. There is a developmental edit, which is an overall runthrough of the manuscript or piece of text, which looks for any plot holes or character developmental errors. It looks at the story as a whole without focusing on it as a line-by-line edit. This is invaluable to the writer, as it gives you a better understanding of how you should write your overall story.

There is the copy edit. The copy editor will read your story line-by-line for grammatical and spelling errors, along with fact checking any dates, times, historical inaccuracies, etc. There are a lot of facts and figures I have in my latest book that I need an editor to go through. This is essential to any readthrough.

Then there is proofreading. Proofreading is the last step where the book is already in the design process. The copy editor will typically edit it on the pdf or on the InDesign page to scan it once more for any spelling/grammatical issues before going to print. This is a last-minute ditch effort to save your work.

The best safe-guard though is you. Having someone look after your work is ideal, but this is your work, and you need to look after it as well.

Five: Be Prepared for Criticism

Not everyone will like your work, and in fact, sometimes you'll look back on your stuff and you'll hate it too! Sometimes what they have to say makes sense, and other times what they have to say, you have to take with a grain of salt. Remember to write for you, and you only.

Six: Read Books on Writing or Take Courses

In addition to writing every day, it helps to find ways to improve your craft. I recommend reading On Writing by Stephen King or Reading Like a Writer. Learning from those who have been doing it longer and better than you have is one way to improve your own craft. If you have time and money to take a course, it is also helpful to be surrounded by like minds that are on the same path as you. If you don't have the money, but want a writing community, there are all sorts of writing blogs you can subscribe to, podcasts you can listen to (I recommend Grammar Girl on NPR), or societies to join (Alliance of Independent Authors for one). You could also join social media groups where writers ask questions and give advice. Some writers even will copy edit or promote your work! Joining a writing community will make you feel included and give you different perspectives about things in the writing world.

Last Thoughts:

There are many more points that I could add to this list, but this is a blog. I intend to add more writing advice as the days go on. The main thing is to not get discouraged. Writer's block is a thing, but when you have it, write about why you think you have it. Or look up prompts online. Or write down gibberish! No really, eventually those words will make sense! Look up the poem "Jabberwocky." You'll see.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful. Until next time...

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